I’ve been a bit lost this week when trying to choose what tune to talk about. I wanted to pick something a bit more recent than I’ve normally done. Ever mindful of ‘Ageing Rocker Syndrome’ I’m always alert to the dangers of plundering the archives when I’m more than aware there is just as good music being released now as there always has. Still, I’ve been listening to this a lot recently. Maybe it’s because I’ve actually been raking through a bunch of old mix tapes from the 90s and rediscovering tunes I had all but forgotten. Or maybe it’s because there is never a bad time for some classic Blake Baxter.
The story of Detroit Techno is heavy with the legends of the Holy Trinity. Derrick May, Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson are generally credited with the creation of the Motor City take on Dance music that we all know and love. Like all stories, however, it’s not complete. The summation of the First Wave usually fails to take into account others who were present at the start; Eddie ‘Flashin’ Fowlkes, for example, is often knocked off the group photo like a dissident falling from grace with Stalin. I’ve never been entirely sure why. His music is every bit as exhilarating as the work of the others and in terms of a legacy he is up there with the rest.
Blake Baxter is in a similar position although, if anything, he deserves to be elevated even higher. The man has made some incredibly sublime music in his time. At least as good as May and Saunderson, Baxter seems to have understood from the very start the impulses which drive dance music. He doesn’t seem to give two shakes about whether there should be any difference between House and Techno and has always delighted in drawing his influences from as wide a range of sources as possible.
Most of us are probably aware of his two big killers from early on, Sexuality and When a Thought Becomes You are sophisticated and weaponized takes on House Music, even when the rawness, say, of Sexuality threatens to shake the music into its various elements. When We Used To Play has never seemed to have had the cachet of the other two big tracks, which is a shame, because it is every bit as deadly.
This is an old tune too, dating back to Baxter’s first release in 1987 – which puts it right at the epicentre with May’s famous brace, Nude Photo and Strings Of Life. If anything, it is the stronger song; aimed very squarely at the dance floor it blurs the ridiculous genre lines until they are little more than smears under the feet. From that much imitated but never bettered intro to the seductive, sultry vocals it’s a lesson on what dance music should be, can be, and is. It’s a smokey creature of the night that evaporates into memories as the dawn breaks over it.
Ladies and Gentleman, I give you The Prince, Blake Baxter.